Grateful if you would publish this tribute in memory of Justice Neville L. Smith (ret.):
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than anything I have ever done; it is a far, far, better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” — Charles Dickens.
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Justice Neville Smith, a legal and judicial light, a gentleman and scholar.
Smith was called to the Bahamas Bar and joined the Department of Legal Affairs in 1967, where he served until his elevation to the Supreme Court bench in 1985.
He demitted that judicial office in 1995 and joined the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, where he remained until his return to The Bahamas in 2001. He then entered private practice which continued until a few months before his passing. He was made a Queen’s Counsel in 2015.
Inexorably, he has been in the forefront of the legal and judicial service of The Bahamas for nearly 50 years.
As director of legal affairs between 1975 and 1985, he was the chief legal advisor of the government, responsible for advising the attorney general, and represented the state in civil actions before the court in the aftermath of The Bahamas’ transition from colony to independent nation.
He was known for his scholarly and well-written legal opinions, for his careful and meticulous preparation of his briefs and for his excellent and fearless presentation of his cases before the court.
In that capacity, he also mentored many young lawyers in a newly independent Bahamas, and was a stern but kindly taskmaster, setting for them high but achievable standards. He insisted that his lawyers work hard and produce the best legal opinions they were capable of, and that they perform in court to the best of their ability.
Undoubtedly, his insistence on hard work and the attainment of excellence, and his stellar example, were instrumental in producing, from persons who had served in that department under him, five Supreme Court justices – with four out of the five becoming justices of appeal, registrars, magistrates and many senior lawyers who now practice at the private bar.
As justice of the Supreme Court, Smith continued his commitment to duty and was as relentless in his work ethic as he had ever been.
He penned some courageous decisions and insisted on lawyers following the rules of court and complying with the prescribed timelines. This practice did not make him popular with lawyers, but in time, he earned their respect.
Throughout his tenure on the bench, he tenaciously adhered to the highest standards of judicial service and positively impacted the administration of justice in The Bahamas. Likewise, in his private practice after his judicial service, he continued to uphold all the lofty traditions and standards of the bar.
His greatest pride was the following in his path by his son and daughter, both fine lawyers who continue his commitment to legal excellence.
But above all his attributes, Justice Neville Smith was the consummate gentleman – gracious, charming and quick to share a story or a laugh.
He was steeped in, and guided by, his faith; deeply committed to his God and very much involved in the life of Christ Church Cathedral, where he served for many years as lay reader, vestry member, cell coordinator and catechist.
His fellow faith travelers will miss his faithful work and witness, and I will always cherish the lifelong source of wisdom and encouragement. I therefore offer this tribute, with fondness and gratitude.
— Dame Anita Allen